Summary: HOw committed are you to God?
I wonder have you ever thought of yourself as fitting the archetype of the English Gentleman. Have you ever felt a desire to be considered such a person? I don’t mean that you wanted to wear a bowler hat and carry an umbrella or eat cucumber sandwiches for afternoon tea. What I was thinking about was the old saying that a gentleman’s word is his bond. Do you want people to think of you as someone who’s word can always be trusted?
Well, that should be true of every Christian, shouldn’t it? When we commit ourselves to something we of all people should carry it through. In the sermon on the mount Jesus said: "Do not swear at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, 35or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. 36And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. 37Let your word be ’Yes, Yes’ or ’No, No’; anything more than this comes from the evil one." In other words, we should be people who are always faithful to our commitments.
Well, today’s passage from Mal 2 has a lot to say about being faithful. There’s the issue of faithfulness to the covenant community, there’s the issue of faithfulness to God’s temple, there’s the issue of faithfulness to our spouse and overarching it all is the issue of faithfulness to God himself.
The thing that I guess stands out for us in this passage is the attitude that God expresses to divorce. Here we have the strongest statement in the Old Testament about what God thinks of divorce. He says: "I hate divorce." And what’s the issue? It’s the fact that they’re breaking the covenant they’ve made with their wives. That in turn, as we’ll see in a moment, is indicative of the fact that they’ve failed in their covenant faithfulness to God.
But we’re jumping ahead aren’t we? As I said, the issue here is faithfulness: covenant faithfulness to God and the resulting faithfulness to one another; or the lack of it.
He begins by reminding them of their origins. He says they all have one father. So who is he thinking of? Adam perhaps? No, he’s thinking of Abraham. He wants to remind them of the covenant God made with Abraham and his descendants forever, but also to remind them of the fact that they’re all brothers and sisters in God’s eyes. So he says, "Why then are we faithless to one another, profaning the covenant of our ancestors?" Why, when we’re brothers and sisters, can’t we be faithful to one another?
So how have they been faithless? Look at v11. What’s been happening is that the men have started going to the neighbouring nations and taking their women in marriage.
Do you remember how I said in the first sermon in this series that they were complaining that the blessings they were expecting from God hadn’t eventuated? Well it seems likely that they were marrying these women to make strategic alliances with their families in order to ensure their economic security. It’s ironic, isn’t it, that the strategy they came up with to ensure their economic security was the very thing that God says is stopping them from receiving his blessing. They can weep and groan as much as they like, but God isn’t going to treat their offerings with favour as long as they’re ignoring his covenant with them. What’s really sad is that despite their recent experience of the exile they’re making the same mistake all over again. You see, what these men are doing is repeating the mistake made by the first Israelites when they entered Canaan, of intermarrying with the local people with the result that they were led astray to worship false gods.
And as if that weren’t enough, some of them are even going to the extent of divorcing their wives in order to enter into these alliances. Not only were they breaking faith with God and the community but they were also breaking faith with the wife of their youth, their companion, or partner. There’s the idea here of a mutual relationship where they’ve worked together for a common purpose; and now it’s all been destroyed in the blink of an eye. Their lack of faith in God has resulted in faithlessness to their wife.
And so he gives them this warning: "I hate divorce." Why? Because it indicates a faithlessness not just to the wife but to God.
This is a warning to us in this age of easy divorce, that God takes very seriously the promises we make before him. Notice he says "The LORD was a witness between you and the wife of your youth." This isn’t just a broken promise, like when you say you’ll be home by ten o’clock and you don’t arrive home until 10:30. No, this is a covenant entered into, with God as your witness. So if you’re married be very careful that you never even contemplate being unfaithful to your spouse. And that means not at any level, because most affairs begin at a relatively innocent level and only slowly escalate into a full blown affair that threatens a marriage. And why is this so important? Not just because your wife or husband will be hurt. Not even because of the vengeance they might wreak on you or how costly divorce tends to be. No, it’s important because God cares; because God will judge. And the warning is so serious because the result might be that we’re cut off from the people of God (v12).